In 2013, journalist Peter Greste was imprisoned on trumped-up terrorism charges in Egypt, and spent time behind bars until he was eventually released. Unsurprisingly, this experience changed his views on humans and conflict.
“It made me think about wars in a much more personal way than I’d ever done before. About how the experience changes us and about how we remember it,” Greste reflects.
That’s the background to his current project, a two-part series about the man dubbed Australia’s greatest Anzac, Sir John Monash.
In General Monash and Me, Greste sets out to discover who Monash really was, and in doing so discovers some hitherto unknown historic family connections—making this a much more personal project for Greste. Instead of the distant, objective journalist, Greste shows us that he is not afraid to show emotion as he invites us into his world.
Monash divided people—they saw him either as the great commander who revolutionised the way wars were fought or, if you were a Monash critic, as vain, egotistical and prone to exaggeration in his meticulous diaries.
Being both Jewish and a colonial, Monash also had to combat fierce racism, but his highly intelligent soldier’s brain helped him rise to the top, and take command of major troop training at Lark Hill in England. During this exercise, King George V heard of his endeavours and visited Monash’s training centre—spending two hours with the Australian general.
Monash led the Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front and became the first commander in 200 years to be knighted on the battlefield, proving that he earned his success.
Yet while he was successful, there was a human side to this general who did not relish what he was doing.
“I hate the business of war with a loathing I cannot describe,” he wrote in his diaries.
“The awful horror of it, the waste, the destruction, the inefficiency. My only consolation has been the sense of doing my duty to my country, which has placed such a responsibility on me.”
Noble sentiments from a great soldier. But behind the soldier was a man missing his wife and family and needing great emotional support in order to be effective on the battlefield.
Enter the ‘significant other’, Lizzie, during Monash’s time in England training troops and on leave from the battlefields of France. Lizzie was a friend of Monash’s wife Victoria, and from notes from Monash’s private diaries and occasional photos, it is clear that Lizzie provided the emotional support that kept Monash going.
This is a fascinating, well-researched documentary that doesn’t shy away from the horror of war, but takes us behind the scenes to get to know more fully the complex individual who was Sir John Monash.